House Democratic leaders are vowing to return to Washington with a renewed focus after Tuesday's drubbing at the polls, but the Republicans' successes — combined with the lengthy tenure of the top Democrats — are sure to raise questions about how much longer the current team should stick around.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has led the party since 2003 — the longest run in more than 50 years — and no one doubts she can keep her minority leader spot if she seeks it.
The California Democrat has been a whirlwind on the campaign trail this year, bouncing nonstop between campaign rallies and fundraising events, hauling in more than $100 million for the party along the way.
Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), Pelosi's top lieutenant for as long as she's been leader, has also been a tireless fundraiser and party cheerleader.
But Democratic leaders failed to keep their expected losses in the single digits, losing at least 13 seats to the Republicans, shifting more power to Speaker John BoehnerJohn Andrew BoehnerCheney takes shot at Trump: 'I like Republican presidents who win re-election' Cheney allies flock to her defense against Trump challenge Lobbying world MORE (R-Ohio) in the next Congress and deflating the party, as they head into a crucial 2016 presidential cycle.
The list of casualties included not only freshmen, such as Reps. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.), Pete GallegoPete Pena GallegoER doctor chosen to lead Hispanic Caucus 4 Texas GOP congressional primary runoffs to watch GOP candidate scores upset win in Texas state Senate runoff MORE (D-Texas), and Joe GarciaJoe Antonio GarciaFormer Florida congressman fined 6K in campaign finance scheme Overnight Defense: Biden honors McCain at Phoenix memorial service | US considers sending captured ISIS fighters to Gitmo and Iraq | Senators press Trump on ending Yemen civil war Biden pays tribute to McCain at emotional memorial service MORE (D-Fla.), but also veteran incumbents, such as Reps. Nick RahallNick Joe RahallA billion plan to clean the nation's water is murky on facts On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 We shouldn't allow politics to impede disaster relief MORE (D-W.Va.), John BarrowJohn Jenkins BarrowOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Republican wins Georgia secretary of state runoff to replace Kemp The most important runoff election is one you probably never heard of MORE (D-Ga.) and Tim BishopTimothy (Tim) Howard BishopOn The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Dem candidate 'struck by the parallels' between Trump's rise and Hitler's Dems separated by 29 votes in NY House primary MORE (D-N.Y.).
Democratic leaders were quick to downplay the results, noting that they kept their losses well below the historic average (29) for the president's party in a sixth-year midterm.
"[A]s tough as tonight was, we did everything in our control to narrow the Republicans’ pick-up opportunities and limit their chance to take advantage of the wave," Rep. Steve Israel (N.Y.), head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), said in a statement early Wednesday. "As Democrats lost the Senate and an avalanche of outside spending was directed late at the House, we protected Democrats in swing seats from Florida to Illinois to California and at least one Republican-held seat.
"In short, it could have been worse."
Still, the results are sure to spark calls from some Democrats for a change atop the party, if only to lend a boost to their 2016 presidential contender.
Even before Tuesday's results were in, Ralph Nader, the liberal consumer advocate, urged Pelosi, Hoyer and Israel to "step down from their posts and invite fresh leadership who can save the country from the ravages of today’s Republican party."
There would be no absence of interest if they choose to take Nader's advice, as a growing number of younger, up-and-coming Democrats — including Reps. Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraBipartisan senators to hold hearing on 'toxic conservatorships' amid Britney Spears controversy Bottom line Overnight Health Care — FDA panel backs boosters for some, but not all MORE (D-Calif.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) — are eager to advance up the leadership ladder.
Pelosi, since the elections, has been relatively silent, vowing only that the Democrats would use Tuesday's results to fight harder for working people.
“House Democrats will continue to fight for middle class families who are the backbone of our democracy," she said in a brief statement released early Wednesday morning. "There is important work to do to jumpstart the Middle Class and we hope we can do it with bipartisanship and fairness.”
Pelosi has defied the prognosticators in the past, choosing to remain the Democratic leader after the 2010 elections, when she lost the Speaker's gavel and the Democrats lost 63 seats, and again after the 2012 cycle, when the Democrats gained eight seats but failed win the chamber on President Obama's coattails.
True to form, Pelosi has not said what she intends to do next year. With that in mind, her preview of the election results, made early Tuesday evening, could very well apply to her future.
"We'll see what the outcome is in just a matter of time," she said, "but that time may not be tonight."